| 12.1°C Dublin

Desperate race to free trapped survivors of Turkey earthquake

RESCUE teams were this morning sifting through rubble to try to reach dozens of people believed trapped after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Turkey.

The Interior Minister said the death toll in the powerful quake has increased to 217.

Rescue teams worked throughout the night searching for survivors, as aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to assist thousands left homeless.

Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said about 80 multistory buildings collapsed in the eastern city of Ercis alone when the earthquake struck yesterday.

He said some 40 buildings had people trapped inside, giving rise to fears that the death toll could rise substantially.

"Rescue work is ongoing, especially at buildings where (rescuers) have determined survivors," Mr Sahin said.

The hardest-hit area was Ercis, a city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border and in one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones. The city of Van, about 90 kilometres south of Ercis, also sustained substantial damage. Highways in the area caved in.

Mr Sahin said 117 people were killed in Ercis and another 100 died in Van while some 740 people were injured.

US scientists recorded more than 100 aftershocks in eastern Turkey within 10 hours of the quake, including one with a magnitude of 6.0.

Residents spent the night outdoors and lit campfires, while the Red Crescent began setting up tents in a stadium. Others sought shelter with relatives in nearby villages.

Around 1,275 rescue teams from 38 provinces were being sent to the region, officials said, and troops were also assisting search-and-rescue efforts.

Meanwhile, Ireland has offered humanitarian aid.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Irish Aid Rapid Response Corps is on standby to deploy to the region.

Emergency supplies from Irish Aid's humanitarian stockpiles in Brindisi, Italy, and Dubai have also been offered.

"It is imperative that the humanitarian response operation be rapid and effective to keep the death toll to an absolute minimum," he said.

"While Turkey has enormous experience in responding to crises of this nature, I have asked officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to assess how Ireland can contribute to the relief effort," said Mr Gilmore.

"In particular we are ready to deploy members of the Irish Aid Rapid Response Corps to Turkey to work with agencies engaged in the operation. We are also prepared to carry out an airlift of emergency supplies from our stockpiles."